An American in Paris
If you’re a fan of ballet, actually, if you’re a fan of dancing, a terpsichorian treat awaits in the stage adapation of “An American in Paris” which recently concluded a successful Toronto engagment. I bring this up as a reminder to grab a ticket, if the dance musical (lets hope), is booked for a return visit . Its a spirit lifter well worth your time.
The genesis of the show goes back to the 1951 movie with music by the Gershwin brothers (songs by George, lyrics by Ira), which starred the energetic, charismatic Gene Kelly. The hoofer was searching for a dancer to co-star opposite him in the musical feature and spotted Leslie Caron performing with a ballet company. She got the job and a contract with MGM studios.
The opening curtain reveals the City of Lights rising from the ashes of World War II and liberation from Nazi occupation. Its a somewhat somber start for a feel good plot sprinkled with music and dance, but emotions are quickly elevated with the stunning visual of Nazi banners being ripped down by the city’s citizens and transfigured into an enormous flowing French flag which covers the stage. The scene evokes a feeling of flow-through-the-veins patriotism fueling the urge to jump up proudly singing La Marseillaise.
The dance sequences are sophisticated, expertly carried out by an energetic drill team with rhythmic precision dressed in multicoloured costumes. The visual effect is likened to looking through a kaleidoscope and viewing bits of glass continually changing symmetrical forms.
As in the film, the high point of the show is the 17 minute ballet (the film’s title) bringing the story to a (not a spoiler alert) happy ending. The music is a jazz-influenced symphonic poem that effectively reveals a narrative expressed through dance and music without lyrics. For the audience its an eye-catching feast of Impressionst style costumes and sets. George’s intent “is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.”
The narritive follows an American GI pursuing his dream to make it as a painter in a city bursting with hope and possibility. His chance encounter with a beautiful dancer plays out as the streets of Paris become a backdrop to a sensuous romance of art, friendship and love.
Framed by the beauty and poetry of songs by the Gershwin siblings, the show celebrates the optimistic affirmation life offers for the taking. “An American In Paris” is an old fashioned romantic extravaganza….classic musical theater that’s also new. See the Oscar winning best film, then plan to see the stage adaptation, winner of four Broadway Tony awards, in its hopeful return to the Toronto theatre scene.
“Fun Home”, onstage at Toronto’s CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic Theatre), straddles time in telling of 43-year-old lesbian cartoonist Alison reexamining her own coming out journey by plainly relating key life moments growing up in small town Pennsylvania.
The musical narrative also explores the difficult closeted reality of Alison’s gay father, Bruce (Evan Buliung). Before he died at the age of 44 in an assumed suicide, Bruce was obsessive about his interests and responsibilities as an historical home restorer, English teacher and mortician (“Fun Home” was the nickname for the family’s funeral home).
There’s a combination of opposites in two story lines-the elation in Alison’s first romantic fling with her activist girlfriend, and the emotional hurt of Alison’s mother, Helen (Cynthia Dale), who stoically tolerates her husband’s sexual chicanery with younger men.
“Fun Home” illustrates, within two generations of Alison’s family, the personal political beliefs of the characters as well as society’s changing attitudes of sexual tolerance toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Alison tries to understand her own complicated life in relation to the situations and times that shaped those of her parents.
Small Alison loves her father, seeing him as an adored mentor. In the role an utterly remarkable Hannah Levinson shows an emotional maturity beyond her preteen age. Medium Alison (Sara Farb) and mature Alison (Laura Condlln), interact with authority as the story progresses.
Adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 best selling memoir in comics format, “Fun Home,” a tragicomedy of emotional angst, emanating from austere reality is a pocket size musical that packs a punch.